Over the past three years, Swarthmore’s Large Scale Event committee has brought a diverse range of acts to campus, including Broken Social Scene, RJD2, Estelle, and Girl Talk. Despite the musicians’ large followings, many students have disapproved of the LSE selections, especially the Spring 2011 show featuring St. Vincent and Mayer Hawthorne. A popular comment on The Daily Gazette referred to the LSE committee as “selfish,” “self-absorbed,” and “disrespectful” for choosing “disappointing” bands of “this genre.”
LSE’s new Chair, Shane Ogunnaike, hopes to avoid student dissatisfaction in the coming year. In order to gauge Swatties’ musical tastes, the committee (which is formed each year through an application and interview process) sent out an in-depth survey for students to fill out over the summer. “The survey was meant to engage the campus community and get a tangible feel for who the whole campus generally wants to see,” said Ogunnaike. “In the past, LSE has tried to simply represent other students thinking about what students would want to see, as opposed to just asking. This probably led to the many times the student body appeared to be disappointed with who came to perform. The survey said, ‘We hear you.’”
Comments that prompted the new approach insulted the committee for their poor taste. Student disapproval of the performers heightened further when friends of Committee members posted defensive responses on the Spring LSE’s Facebook page. Another group of students expressed disappointment in the Committee’s failure to secure pop/R&B/soul artist Janelle Monáe, a performer the committee solicited in September of 2010 and ultimately could not book because her agent did not respond to the Coordinator of Student Activities, Paury Flowers. Because the student body was not privy to the expanded efforts made by the LSE committee throughout the year, many students concluded one of two things: either St. Vincent and Mayer Hawthorne were pet favorites of the committee members, or poor planning and laziness were main factors in the selection process.
At the time this article goes to press, about 250 students had completed the survey. “The results are still rolling in, but they are generally the same across the board,” said Ogunnaike. “A lot of people want to see hip-hop and/or pop on stage. They also want to have someone everyone knows, but would still appreciate a great live performance with a lot of energy.” But bureaucracy will continue to limit the LSE’s choice of artist:
LSE can cater to … requests, but only to an extent. Who we get depends on a tight budget, as well as administrative review and approval. So there is some red tape that limits us from fully doing what we would like to do … The complaints are usually the same, where people are upset about how we have not booked really mainstream artists that everyone would know and be motivated to see. This could be resolved by us having a bigger budget, which was cut three years ago with student body approval. So, it would be up to the student body to ask for more LSE funds.
However, the increased student participation should improve student satisfaction with the events, Ogunnaike explains. “I’m optimistic about support for this year’s acts because we are involving the campus community in the process… they also have some responsibility in making this LSE what they want it to be.”